This is the home of automobile road tests in South Africa. We drive South African cars, SUVs and LCVs under South African conditions. It also just happens that most of the vehicles we drive are world cars as well, so what you read here probably applies to the models you can get at home.
*To read one of our road tests, just select from the menu on the left.
*Please remember too, that prices quoted were those ruling on the days I wrote the reports.
Three solid, strong and conservative German models dominate South Africa’s motoring ‘C’ segment, proving yet again that we’re a pretty bland and predictable bunch of consumers. Fans of each will protest that their’s is vastly superior to and totally different from the others, but let’s face it –all of them drive up your tailpipe and flash their lights off, don’t they? There are a few alternatives; all trying to make inroads, but few prospective buyers are brave enough to actually park something different in front of the gym or outside the nineteenth.
Having a look at the introductory end of this segment is Renault’s Fluence 2.0 Privilége sedan; a car with all the power you need, ample space for passengers and luggage and as many luxury features as you can actually use. When the company introduced its Mégane lll range a while ago, it found itself with a garageful of hatchbacks but no sedan. Enter the Fluence, a rebadged and modified Samsung SM3, itself based on the Mégane ll. Samsung, now Renault-Samsung, is a South Korean car maker that was in serious trouble before the French company bailed it out by purchasing a 70-percent share in 2000.
Fluence comes in three levels of trim and equipment, powered by two different engines. Expression and Dynamique models use the 81 kW version of Renault’s 16-valve 1600cc motor while the style-leading Privilége sports a 105 kW two-litre. The smaller engines both work with five-speed manual transmissions while the 2.0 gets a sixpack of gears and the full basket of toys.
You’re looking at the usual ABS with EBD, ESP with ASR, autolocking, six airbags, automatic headlamps and autowipe, filtered automatic dual channel air conditioning, power windows all around with anti-trap on the front panes, reverse parking assistance, leather upholstery, Bluetooth, surround sound and satnav. About the only thing you can add, apart from styling kit and different alloy wheels, is a glass sunroof. Our test unit had one.
A manually operated inner shield provides both privacy and shade while a single multifunctional switch looks after slide and tilt operations. I tried it in both positions at about 100 km/h on the high-income section of freeway between Nottingham Road and Howick. Oddly, it was slightly quieter fully open than in the tilted position, but wind noise in both modes was minimal with no buffeting whatsoever.
While we’re in the driver’s seat, we find that it adjusts mechanically for height, reach and recline and has lumbar adjustment as well. The passenger’s chair does without height adjustment. A built-in TomTom satnav unit dominates the top centre of the crash pad while its remote control unit snuggles into a special cup in one of the drinks sockets. I usually leave these things alone but someone else’s previously programmed destination choice kept nagging me to go there. The only way to delete the persistent item was by using the remote. It wasn’t very intuitive to use because the menu language is closer to geekese than actual English, but seek out the option to “clear route” if ever you get caught with this problem.
That little irritation aside, the instruments are clear, white on black and are marked the way we know best, with speed increments going 20, 40, 60 etc. rather than in French mode. The steering wheel adjusts for reach as well as height, so everyone should get comfortable. The RDS radio and CD unit is the familiar device used by all locally available French cars, with auxiliary and USB connectors. This accepts inputs from both MP3 and WMA-encoded sources.
Visibility outward is good and controls are easy to reach and use. Door bins, a trio of cup holders and a split-level, chilled glove box cater for storage needs. The ignition “key” is the familiar pocket-friendly Renault device that one slots into an orifice on the dash before punching the big black starter button. A word here: if you lock the doors using the button on the remote, they can only be unlocked via the remote. To unlock by touching the little square on the inner surface of the door handle, one must have locked by pressing the outside black button.
Rear seat accommodations are for three with head restraints and belts for that number. Foot space and kneeroom are OK for taller passengers, but headroom is restricted. The 530-litre boot is square and nicely proportioned, with a mid-thigh loading sill. Two bag hooks and a cargo net add versatility. The spare is an equivalently sized steel item. Rear seat backs are split 40:60 and can be folded almost flat after removing head restraints and tumbling the seat cushions.
Overall rating? Competent. It goes well enough, gets you from A to B, has a full complement of technical gizmos, a huge boot and enough room for a family of average height. But is there French flair and passion? No. The technician whose job it was to dial feeling and sensitivity into the steering mechanism didn’t make it to work that day.
Price: R244 900
Engine: 1997cc, 16-valve, inline four-cylinder
Power: 105 kW at 6 000 rpm
Torque: 195 Nm at 3 750 rpm
Zero to 100 km/h: 10,4 seconds
Maximum speed: 195 km/h
Real life fuel consumption: about 9,7 l/100 km
Tank: 60 litres
CO2 emissions rating: 184 gm/km
Warranty: 5 years/150 000 km
Service plan: 5 years/100 000 km
This is a one-man show, which means that road test cars entrusted to me are driven only by me. Some reviewers hand test cars over to their partners to use as day-to-day transport and barely experience them for themselves.
What this means to you is that every car reviewed is given my own personal evaluation and receives my own seat of the pants judgement - no second hand input here.
Every car goes through real world testing; on city streets littered with potholes, speed bumps and rumble strips, on freeways and if its profile demands, dirt roads as well.
My articles appear every Wednesday in the motoring pages of The Witness, South Africa's oldest continuously running newspaper, and occasionally on Saturdays in Weekend Witness as well. I drive eight to ten vehicles most months of the year (press cars are withdrawn over the festive season - wonder why?) so not everything gets published in the paper. Those that are, get a tagline but the rest is virgin, unpublished and unedited by the political-correctness police. Hope you like what you see, because there are no commercial interests at work here. As quite a few readers have found, I answer every serious enquiry from my home email address, with my phone numbers attached, so I do actually exist.
I am based in Pietermaritzburg, KZN, South Africa. This is the central hub of the KZN Midlands farming community; the place farmers go to buy their supplies and equipment, truck their goods to market, send their kids to school and go to kick back and relax.
So occasionally a cow, a goat or a horse may add a little local colour by finding its way into the story or one of the pictures. It's all part of the ambience!
Want to ask a question, comment or just tell me you thoroughly disagree with what I say? That's your privilege, because if everybody agreed on everything, the world would be a boring place. All I ask is that you remain calm, so please blow off a little steam before venting too vigorously.